British Columbia

New B.C. alcohol minimum pricing means cheaper beer and cider pitchers, pricier spirits

After outcry over "unhappy hours" and new minimum pricing leading to some bars raising prices for beer, the B.C. government has revised its minimum before-tax pricing rules.

60 oz. pitchers of draft beer reduced to $12, but cost of 1 oz. of spirits raised to $3.

New minimum alcohol pricing in B.C. means buying pitchers of beer and cider will give you three pints for the price of two - but drinking hard liquor will be more expensive. (CBC)

After the outcry over "unhappy hours" and new minimum pricing leading to some bars raising prices for beer, the B.C. government has revised its minimum before-tax pricing rules.

It has created a new category of minimum alcohol pricing for pitchers of draft beer and cider of more than 50 ounces, setting a minimum price of $12 or 20 cents per ounce.

That's down from the unpopular minimum pricing set in June, which made the price of a pitcher at least $15 for a standard 60 ounce draft pour.

In a press release, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said the changes reflect the impact of the minimum pricing set in June on consumers and businesses.

"Creating a new category for draft beer in servings over 50 ounces is a fair balance for consumers, that still takes into account the views of business owners and health and safety advocates," said Anton.

The introduction of variable drink pricing alongside minimum drink pricing in June made for "unhappy hours" for some licensees, who would be forced to boost their prices to meet the minimum requirements.

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Although pitchers will now be cheaper, the minimum price for pints and sleeves of draft beer and cider will remain at 25 cents per ounce, making a 12 ounce sleeve $3 or 20 ounce pint $5.

'Cautiously optimistic'

Jeff Gignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, which represents B.C. pubs, bars and private liquor stores, says he hopes these minimum price changes are the last.

"I have just sent three e-mails to our members on the same thing... it's difficult for them to make plans for their business," said Gignard.

"If you are running a business, any business at all, your two biggest concerns are instability in the markets and uncertainty in information... so we have had a bit of a challenge."

Gignard says pricing should be simple and the changes are confusing not just for consumers, but also for licensees. 

The B.C. government is also raising the minimum price for an ounce of spirits from $2 to $3. (Jeff J Mitchell/Reuters)

"We will work with whatever structure we have and we are cautiously optimistic that this will be good, but we have to remain committed to public safety."

Chief among those public safety concerns is increased intoxication. Gignard says his members are worried the cheaper cost of a pitcher of beer may lead to more intoxication.

"Consumers will likely be happy, but there is a problem. The price per pint stays the same 25 cents per ounce, with tax and tip that's six bucks," said Gignard.

"Now you can get a jug for the price of two pints, so you end up getting three pints for the price of two."

Hard liquor more expensive

The price of beer may be getting cheaper, but the government is also raising the minimum price for an ounce of spirits to $3. Previously, an ounce of spirits was subject only to the absolute minimum drink cost set at $2. 

According to the government press release, this change will "maintain a good balance between the price options British Columbians expect, while still protecting health and public safety."

John Yap, Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform, whose review of B.C. liquor laws recommended 73 changes to regulations, backed the latest move.

"The B.C. Liquor Policy Review has been centred on listening to the views of British Columbians and industry stakeholders, and best aligning any changes we make with their views," said Yap in the press release.

"Upon reviewing B.C.’s minimum prices, we realized they weren’t on par with consumers’ expectations and we took action to find a fair compromise that still upholds B.C.’s high standards for health and safety."

In January, the provincial government endorsed all 73 recommendations from Yap's report on B.C. liquor laws.

Those changes include increasing the variety of alcohol available at sporting events and allowing mixed-spirit drinks at music festivals and in sports venues. The province will also allow liquor sales at grocery stores.

So far, only 17 of the recommendations have been implemented. Government aims to have most in place by spring 2015.